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Sen. Joan Carter Conway, D-Baltimore City, left, listens as Sen. J.B. Jennings, Senate minority leader, explains the questions arising from allowing  a legislator to vote twice on the same bill in two different chambers. Conway is the sponsor of the Senate version of a bill that makes felons on parole and probation eligible to vote. The bill was the subject of a veto by Gov. Larry Hogan. (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

Md. Senate acts to override vetoes of felon voting rights bills

ANNAPOLIS — Court challenges and voter retribution were cited as two possible outcomes of a Senate vote Tuesday to override Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of a bill that restores voting eligibility to felons on parole and probation.

Hogan ate “Bipartisan Crab Soup” with Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford hours after the vote and told reporters he believes the Senate vote is vulnerable to litigation because one legislator voted on the measure in both the Senate and the House of Delegates. The governor also said supporters of the override, all Democrats, were out of touch with Maryland voters and would face electoral consequences in 2018.

“They can’t keep ignoring the will of the people,” Hogan said. “I think there are several people who won’t survive this vote, have no chance of being re-elected after their vote today.”

Hogan did not specify which Democratic legislators now have targets on their backs.

Hogan’s comments came after the Senate voted three times on two identical bills vetoed in 2015.

Early in the morning session, the Senate voted 29-18 to override the veto on Senate Bill 340. That bill then needed a veto override vote in the House of Delegates.

The Senate later also voted 29-18 to override a veto on an identical bill, House Bill 980. The House voted 85-56 to override that bill on Jan. 20. But that vote came after a motion to reconsider an earlier vote on the same measure that failed to secure the 29th vote needed to override Hogan’s veto.

The Senate’s first vote to override failed, with a vote of 28-18. Senator Douglas J.J. Peters was off the floor for the vote.

The Senate voted 29-18 to reconsider their vote with Peters back on the floor.

In all cases, the vote to overturn the veto was supported by Democratic senators only. Four Democratic senators — James “Jim” Brochin and Kathy Klausmeier, both of Baltimore County, James E. “Ed” DeGrange Sr., Anne Arundel County, and James “Jim” Mathias, Eastern Shore — joined 14 Republicans who voted to sustain both vetoes.

“Today’s override is a huge step forward for voting rights in Maryland. Governor Hogan suppressed the vote for an additional eight months with his veto so our next challenge is to quickly educate and register voters for the upcoming April 26 local and federal primaries” said Jane Henderson, executive director of Communities United, an organization that supported the bill and the override effort.

Legislators split on the public policy issue of whether convicted felons should be allowed to vote before completing their parole and probation.

Sen. Delores G. Kelly, D-Baltimore County, said restoring the right to vote is part of the process of restoring former felons to their communities.

“It ought to be your responsibility, as opposed to just your right, to vote,” Kelley said. “A person who comes out of prison and has done their time and will either take themselves to the poll is showing you more of a rehabilitative impact on their lives than people who will sit in the street, maybe riot if they don’t like something but not go to the polls to inform their representatives of where they stand and what they feel is good for their families and their community.”

Opponents of the bill, such as Sen. Michael Hough, R-Frederick County, said restoration of voting rights is premature and should not be done until the convicted felon has completed the terms of a court sentence, including paying restitution and successful completing any parole or probation.

“I’m in agreement with this idea of removing the scarlet letter and letting people vote,” Hough said. “This is not about whether felons vote or not. This is about having an orderly process. About you completing your sentence, paying your restitution, restoring the victim and restoring the offender.”

The vote was not without controversy as Sen. Craig Zucker, D-Montgomery County, voted to override the same bill in January when he was a member of the House of Delegates.

“I don’t know the legalities of it, and I don’t know if anyone is going to challenge it or not,” Hogan said Tuesday, while having lunch with Rutherford at Chick and Ruth’s Delly. “You hear about ‘one man, one vote.’ This is one man, two votes. It doesn’t seem right.”

Some legislators questioned the legitimacy of allowing a legislator to vote twice in the same issue in two different chambers.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said an advisory letter written by legal counsel to the General Assembly provided assurances that the Senate was on solid footing in allowing Zucker to vote.

Some Republicans disagreed.

Sen. J.B. Jennings, R-Baltimore and Harford Counties and the Senate minority leader, said the letter raised questions and left the door open to a court challenge, but he joined Hogan in saying that he would not likely be one to go to court over it.